By Jeff Seldin
Russia’s cyber operations may not have managed to land the big blow that many Western officials feared following Moscow’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, but Ukrainian cyber officials caution Moscow has not stopped trying.
Instead, Ukraine’s top counterintelligence agency warns that Russia continues to refine its tactics as it works to further ingrain cyber operations as part of their warfighting doctrine.
“Our resilience has risen a lot,” Illia Vitiuk, head of cybersecurity for the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), said Thursday at a cyber summit in Washington. “But the problem is that our counterpart, Russia, our enemy, is constantly also evolving and searching for new ways [to attack].”
Vitiuk warned that Moscow continues to launch between 10 and 15 serious cyberattacks per day, many of which show signs of being launched in coordination with missile strikes and other traditional military maneuvers.
“These are not some genius youngsters in search for easy money,” Vitiuk said. “These are people who are working on day-to-day basis and have orders from their military command to destroy Ukraine.”
Vitiuk said Russia has launched 3,000 cyberattacks against Ukraine so far this year, after carrying out 4,500 such attacks following its invasion in 2022.
In addition, he said Russian officials are targeting Ukraine with about 1,000 disinformation campaigns per month.
Last month, for example, the SBU uncovered and blocked a Russian malware plotthat sought to infiltrate critical Ukrainian systems by using Android mobile devices captured from Ukrainian forces on the battlefield.
Russian officials routinely deny any involvement in cyberattacks, especially those aimed at civilian infrastructure.
But Russian denials have been met with skepticism in the West, and in the United States, in particular.
“The Russians are increasing their capability and their efforts in the cyber domain,” said CIA Deputy Director David Cohen, who spoke at the same conference in Washington.
“This is a pitched battle every day,” Cohen added, noting that the fight in cyberspace is far from one-sided.
“The Russians have been on the receiving end of a fair amount of cyberattacks being directed at them from a sort of a range of private sector actors,” he said. “There have been attacks on Russian government, some hack and leak attacks. There have been information space attacks on the TV and radio broadcasts.”
Both Washington and Kyiv agree Ukraine’s cyber defenses are holding, at least for now.
Vitiuk, though, expressed caution.
“This war is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” he said. “Our enemy is evolving, and [there are] a lot of things we still need to do, and a lot of things we still need to adopt in order to make this victory come faster.”
Vitiuk also warned that Russia’s determination should not be taken lightly, pointing to Ukrainian intelligence showing that Moscow is looking for ways to expand the reach of its cyber operations against Kyiv.
“We clearly see that there is a national cyber offensive program,” Vitiuk said. “Now they implement offensive [cyber] disciplines in their higher education establishments under control of special services.”
“They start to teach students how to attack state systems, and it is extremely, extremely dangerous,” he said.